porterjw's Build Guide

porterjw

Active Member
Administrator
Messages
304
#1
Intro

Hello and welcome to porterjw's Build Guide!

Building a computer. Yes, actually *building* a computer... While that may seem like a daunting task, it's far more simple than many people think. Components today are almost entirely modular and installing an Operating System has never been easier.

As a precursor before we begin - this is not a guide that explains the differences between case styles, CPU types, pros/cons of HDD vs SSD, or different RAM speeds - we have separate, detailed guides on those subjects already. This is meant to be a tutorial for a few types of people: those curious about building their own PC and wondering if it's something they can/want to do, those who decided to take the plunge and build their own custom setup, and those that have built one years ago and perhaps just want a refresher.

The test subject for this Guide is a system I built in 2013 and currently serves as my backup desktop. While the technology and processing power has changed in the years since, the core components and assembly of them has not, and will not for quite a while to come. Since this is a backup system, I had the option to do a complete tear-down and cleaning, and then a rebuild so you can see everything from bare chassis to finished unit.

PC Type

What type of system do you want to build? Will it be a family PC, a system that be used for business, something for video editing, or a full-powered gaming rig? Different builds require different levels of performance - the computer is no longer a one-size-fits-all machine. Family and Office systems can get away with lower power/performance parts since they'll be used mainly for emails, homework, and general internet browsing. Video editing systems will want to focus heavily on higher and faster RAM while gaming setups will typically have a higher-end CPU and extensive video processing capability. It's good to have a general idea of what sort of system you want to build before jumping in.

Case Selection

Choosing a case is partly dependent on the type of system you want, the desk area you have to work with, and personal preference. Finding the right balance between the first two and the third can take a lot of research.

Unless you purchased a bare case, it should come equipped with at least 2 fans (front and rear). Yours may have more, or it may have none. The number of fans and their location is something to look at during the case selection process. Airflow is extremely important inside your case as it helps keep your system cool by exhausting the heat dissipated by your heat sinks over your processor and chipsets.


The Build

And now we begin the actual build... The first thing you want to do is place the case on a level surface. If you're worried about scratching the finish of your work area, a piece of cardboard will protect both the table and case as you move it about. While many people (at times myself included) have built systems on a carpeted floor, it's not recommended to do so due to the potential of static discharge.

Next we'll remove both side panels and (optionally if you are installing front fans) the front fascia. This process will vary depending on case model or Brand and may require a phillip's screwdriver. Most cases now offer tool-less designs and larger-headed thumb screws that remove easily with just your fingers, and both side panels will more than likely have this feature. Your front fascia is held in place by clips that will pop out with gentle but firm force and will have wires attached to it - these feed the power/reset buttons, indicator lights, and front USB ports if applicable.

(Front fascia pulled forward)

(Wire loom for front Power/USB ports)

These wires will connect to the motherboard eventually, but for now they will just be in a bundle and tucked into the chassis. If you have enough room to pivot the fascia without removing it to install the fan, that would be ideal. If not, you'll have to gently pull the wires through the opening until you have enough space to work in. If you purchased a case with a window (glass or acrylic) it will have a protective sheet over the outside. *DO NOT* remove this sheet until you finish building the system and have everything put together as the acrylic especially can scratch easy. Set the side panels and fascia (if removed) aside in a safe area.

Contained in the chassis will be a random bag of stand-offs, different sized screws, perhaps a zip tie or two, and maybe a spare latch or other random part. Best advice one can give here is put the bag in a bowl before you open it as these are small parts and it's very easy to spill as you're fishing around for what you need and then spend time looking for whatever fell to the floor. You're going to need parts from the bag for the next step, so just open it in a bowl and gently empty the bag. If you're lucky you'll get a case from a supplier that bags each size screw separately. If this is true for you, don't open the individual bags, just lay them out on your work surface.

(Your case will have fewer or more types of screws depending on the brand and size)

Power Supply Unit (PSU) Installation

This will be the very first thing we actually want to install. We're going to do this first for two reasons: 1) this is typically the bulkiest part of the build and we'll want to secure it in place now rather than risk maneuvering it over sensitive components later, and 2) we'll want to get whatever cable loom connected to it out of the way (either draped over the top of the frame or routed out a rear frame opening) so we're not trying to fish it between other components in later steps. When selecting a PSU, you'll often see the terms 'modular' and 'fully modular' used. A standard (non-modular) PSU will have all of the wires needed to power the system permanently attached. A modular PSU will usually have only the main motherboard wire bundle attached and smaller cables that power the CPU and other components can be added as-needed. A fully modular PSU will have the option of removing every wire bundle (Note: for modular/fully modular PSU's, even though you may not have any/many wire bundles on the PSU itself, it's still recommended to install this first.)

(Fully modular PSU - every wire bundle can be removed and added indivudually)

Depending on case style, your PSU will either be installed on the top or bottom. The screws to secure this to the chassis will be slightly larger with a broader head.

(Mounted in lower part of case)

(View from rear of case - four screws secure the unit)


Case Fans (and where to power them from)

If you ordered a case without fans, or decided to replace the stock ones with either higher CFM (Cubic Foot per Minute) airflow or lower noise units, we'll install those next. Your exhaust fans will mount inside the chassis either on the rear or upper part of the case, but your intake(s) could possibly mount in the space between the front fascia and chassis, or inside the chassis but require the screws to be installed from behind the fascia.

The 'Golden Rule' of airflow is this:

Front/Bottom fan = INTAKE, Rear/Upper fan = EXHAUST

(Lower front intake fan)

(Upper rear exhaust fan)

Airflow works best when the air actually flows, not meets opposing air every few inches. A system that follows the above rule and uses only two case fans that have a middle-of-the-road airflow rating will run cooler than a system with fans providing a higher airflow rating pushing air everywhere and causing turbulence in your case. Your heat sinks (covered later) have one purpose - pull generated heat into their fins to cool the components they are attached to. Similarly, your fans have one purpose - flow air over the heat sink fins to carry that warmth out of your system. Different cases will have differently-sized fan diameters - if you need to purchase fans, make sure you look at the case specifications page to determine what size you need.

You have two different options to power your fans; 3 or 4 pin headers on the motherboard (usually identified by the SYS_FAN(X) designation where X is the header number), or by SATA/Molex connector. The number of 3/4 pin headers will mainly vary depending on the size of the motherboard and, to a lesser degree, the Brand (some companies like to skimp). For a micro ATX board, you're looking at 2-3 fan headers in addition to the CPU and for a full ATX board, you'll generally see 3-5 headers in addition to the CPU. The locations of these fan headers will vary between motherboards. In this instance, Fan 1 is located near a PCIE slot and Fan 2 is located at the very bottom of the board.



Three pin headers will provide power for a fan to run at it's rated speed constantly while four pin headers will allow for fan throttling. Simply put, throttling a fan will allow it to run at a lower speed under lower loads, or be user-adjustable. SATA/Molex connected fans will run at their rated speed only.

(Note: your CPU will have it's own fan header, usually designated by CPU_FAN, and that header will be very close to the CPU Socket. This header should be used to power ONLY the CPU fan.)


Motherboard Installation

(Note: some aftermarket CPU coolers require the installation of a bracket on the back side of the Motherboard before the actual cooler can be mounted. If this holds true for you and your case does not have a removable Motherboard tray or direct access to the rear of the socket, you MUST install the bracket before securing the Motherboard to the case!

If you are using an above-mentioned bracketed cooler, it is highly recommended that the CPU and heat sink assembly are installed before installing the Motherboard inside the case! See the two areas below this segment for those instructions if you'd like to get those squared away before proceeding with this part.)

The type of Motherboard you are using will depend on the location for the grounding (standoff) posts. Almost all mid/full-tower cases (seriously, you have to actively search to find one that doesn't) will support at least micro- and full-ATX boards, meaning you should see far more threaded holes in the case than you will be using. Simply look to see where the holes on your board are and thread the posts into the corresponding spots on the case frame.


(Your mounting points look like this)


(Motherboard case standoffs)

(Standoffs screwed into proper holes. Make sure you only install where your motherboard has a screw hole)

It's perfectly fine to gently position the board in the case to get a better idea if you aren't sure where to place a few of them, just make sure you don't bend the board or excessively scrape it around on the frame.

Your motherboard will also come with a shield plate to protect the ports on the back of the case. This plate will be specific to your motherboard's I/O features. This should be installed prior to securing the board in the case. There are no screws, it simply snaps into the opening in the rear of the case.





Once the posts are installed in their correct positions, it's time to mount the board to them. Simply place the board on top and use the screws provided to secure and ground the board. Hand tight is what we're looking for here. Not hand tight plus another quarter turn, not hand tight until you can't turn anymore...just hand tighten until you feel resistance. PCB can take a bump or two, but applying too much pressure to such a small area such as a screw opening can damage the surrounding area.

(Continued in Post 2)
 
Last edited:

porterjw

Active Member
Administrator
Messages
304
#2
Central processing Unit (CPU) Installation

The CPU is the brains of your system. It determines how fast the computer can process data. This is the first component we want to install on the Motherboard.

We'll do this before placing the Motherboard in the case because we want to have plenty of room to make sure we position the CPU cooler properly to ensure the best fitment. (Note: This Guide is based on an Intel system. AMD builds will differ slightly, though the same basics of mounting/securing the CPU are the same for each platform.) With the Motherboard resting on a flat surface, gently push down on the bar and slide it away from the Socket. Once it's clear of the top latch you can lift the bar and the bracket that secures the CPU will slide back and eventually open like a clamshell.

{Closed position)

(Open position)
(Notice the four raised posts in the corners of both above pictures - these are the posts from the CPU cooler bracket installed (see next section.))

Note the arrow on the Socket cover and the two notches on the exposed Socket array. There will be a corresponding arrow and notching in the CPU, meaning the CPU will only fit one way in the Socket - you can't accidentally install it the wrong way. Before placing the CPU in it's resting spot, we first need to clean the heat shield (large flat grey cover with the chip's model printed on it). We'll do this with rubbing alcohol and a lint-free cloth (coffee filters work great!) to remove any random dust or fingerprints from handling the chip.

We are only cleaning the heat shield and only with a drop or two of alcohol; dripping the alcohol on the filter and then gently rubbing the top of the CPU is the preferred method. Once clean and given one more wipe with a dry part of the filter, carefully place the CPU into the Socket.
Once again take the bar to the side and gently bring it towards the Motherboard; the retaining bracket will rest along the sides of the CPU, putting pressure on the chip to make full contact with the connection points in the Socket. Bring the bar closer to the Motherboard will allow the bracket to slide under the screw and hold the proper tension on the CPU. Sliding the bar under the latch will lock the assembly in place, preventing the CPU from moving.

(CPU placed in socket)

(Bracket covering CPU and ready to be locked in place)

(Bracket properly seated and locked in place)

This last step is optional and will depend on what style HSF you will be using. If using the stock cooler, skip this last little paragraph and continue to the next section. If using an aftermarket cooler, you will need to apply a bit of thermal compound to the heat shield of the CPU. Thermal compound acts as both a filler of microscopic imperfections in the heat shield and allows for much greater transfer of heat from the CPU to the HSF. Failure to apply this compound when using an aftermarket cooler will overheat and potentially damage your CPU. Place a small dab of the compound (about half the size of a pea) in the center of the heat shield. Do not touch it after, do not spread it; just dab it and leave it - the weight of the cooler will spread it evenly when installed.

(Apply and leave it alone!)

CPU Heat Sink Installation

There are several styles of CPU coolers (commonly referred to as Heat Sink Fans (HSF)) out there - from simple 'push and turn' to more elaborate mounting brackets requiring several steps to install. We'll cover installation of an aftermarket unit here. Before we proceed, we'll point out that for most users the HSF included with the CPU will be more than enough to keep your system at normal temperatures. These stock HSFs are generally lower-profile units that utilize the afore-mentioned push and turn design, meaning you simply place the assembly over the CPU and while applying gentle pressure to the top, push down on a pin located in each corner and turn 90* to lock it in place. These units also have pre-applied thermal compound, either in the form of a square patch or 2-3 strips. If you are using the stock cooler, do not touch the strips and do not add more compound; simply place the cooler on the CPU and lock it in place.

(Stock Intel cooler with pre-applied thermal compound)

For those using aftermarket coolers the process is a bit different. As mentioned in the Motherboard section of this guide, many of these coolers are held in place by some sort of bracket installed behind the board.

This bracket acts as a base to help provide even contact pressure between CPU and HSF. Some are simple while others can be very elaborate, so having a general idea of how your cooler will assemble before going into it would be prudent. Before placing the HSF on the CPU, we want to make sure that the contact area is clean. Just as we did with the CPU, we'll do so with rubbing alcohol and a lint-free cloth/filter. Apply a few drops of alcohol to the filter and clean the surface, then wipe with the dry part of the filter.

(This HSF has a mirror-finish mounting plate; yours may not, so don't think you have to see your reflection in order for it to be properly prepared.)

The easiest way to install the HSF is to place it on top of the Socket. For stock units, it's just a matter of pressing down on each corner and giving a quarter turn on each pin. When tightening screws on aftermarket units, make sure you tighten diagonally and in steps as we want the weight of the HSF to evenly spread the thermal compound across the CPU. For example, starting in the upper right corner and tightening about halfway, you would then move to the lower left, then upper left, and finally lower right, all the while tightening halfway on those as well. After the initial tightening, we can go and fully tighten in a clockwise or counter clockwise fashion. Do not over-tighten - these are finely threaded screws, not engine bolts - we don't want to torque them down! This is one of those times where 'just snug' is good perfectly fine - when you have to exert more than a small amount of pressure using a screwdriver, it's tight enough.


RAM Installation

Probably the easiest part of your system build. You'll have anywhere between 2 and 4 slots for RAM. If you have over 2 slots, they will be color coded. The key here is to place your RAM sticks in spots of the same color in order to fully utilize their performance. Depending on your CPU cooler and GPU choice (if you went aftermarket) and RAM slot layout for your specific Motherboard, you may find access to one of the slots blocked. RAM only fits in one way. Push the tabs at the end of the Motherboard slots open, place your stick so the notches align, and press down on the top of the RAM; it will snap into place and automatically close the tabs to secure it.

(One side is longer than the other - impossible to install incorrectly)

(Two colors - if using two sticks of RAM, install in slots of the same color - your colors may vary)

Drive Installation

Your case will have a designated area for your disk drives. More and more cases now will have areas for both traditional 3.5" HDD (platter-style) and 2.5" (laptop or flash-based Solid State Drives (SSD)). Installation of these will vary slightly, but they are all very easy and consist of securing the drives to the case or removable sliding tray via a few screws. There are adapters that will allow a 2.5" drive to mount to a 3.5" tray if your case does now have a designated spot for them. Once they are secure, simple connect one end of the SATA (data) to the drive and the other to the Motherboard, and connect the power cable.

(3.5" drive mounted on it's rail)

(2.5" drives mounted below a 3.5")

Cable Connections

So all your parts are in and now it's time to connect all the data cables and/or power wires. Most connections are very self-explanatory and cannot under any circumstance be put in incorrectly as they are oddly shaped. SATA is a perfect example of this - for both power and data, SATA cables have a separate L-shaped design. Molex connectors are rounded on one side, squared on the other. Your Power Supply cables that connect to the motherboard are all specific to their respective ports as well; you cannot put the cable that powers the CPU into a video card.

Your Power, Reset, and Drive LED do have specific places to connect to, however. Failing to place them properly will result in a system that doesn't turn on, or turns on by pressing the wrong buttons. All of these will connect to pins in the same designated area of the board.

(Red = Positive | Black = Negative)

(Look at your motherboard's reference and connect wires accordingly)

Different boards require different connection points. The guide or poster included with your motherboard will have a diagram of what wires go to which ports, and which port is + and which is -.

Cable Management (Quite Possibly Your New Obsession)

Cable management is important for two reasons, one practical and one visual. First and foremost, it helps with airflow. The less restriction you have moving from the front (intake) of the case to the rear (exhaust) means coolers temperatures. There are going to be natural barriers to this airflow (Drive cages, RAM sticks, certain CPU coolers), so we don't want to clutter it up even more with unkempt cabling helping to create a chaotic whirlwind effect inside your case.

The second reason is that proper cable management just looks good (really good), especially if you opted for a case with a side window that allows you to show off your system. Cable management could be as simple as bundling a group of wires together and using a zip tie to keep them out of the way. Conversely, you could spend a long time routing and re-routing individual wires so almost nothing shows in the finished product. The type of case will have a lot to do with how easy or difficult this step can be. Ultimately, it's not going to make or break your build, it's just a fun/practical step if you want to get creative.

(Routing all wires possible in the space between motherboard tray and side panel)

(End result: keeping the open area inside the case as clean as possible to promote great airflow)
 
Last edited:

mep916

New Member
Administrator
Messages
13
#4
best guide I've seen on the interwebs

outstanding job, Jay, especially with the detailed pics.

(nice build too)
 

Darren

Founding Member
Supermoderator
Messages
345
#5
It would seem my CoFo guide has been thoroughly outdone. :thumbsup::eggplant:

One minor nitpick, is it not possible for you to flip your SSD's so the ports face the motherboard tray and you don't see the cables?
 

johnb35

Active Member
Administrator
Messages
432
#6
is it not possible for you to flip your SSD's so the ports face the motherboard tray and you don't see the cables?
It depends on the case, but I doubt it, it usually only allows you one or the other but not both. There is usually a lip on the back side that prevents doing it like that. I have used a case for my clients that will only allow the drives to be inserted so the cables are facing the back instead of the front but I hate that.
 

porterjw

Active Member
Administrator
Messages
304
#7
I had that way for a while, but it got to be a hassle when I needed to hook up additional drives for whatever reason (mainly when I did a lot of service). Ever since then I just always defaulted to having the drives easily removable without putzing around with removing the back cover. But yeah, it does add a bit of an eyesore especially with a full-windowed panel.
 

Darren

Founding Member
Supermoderator
Messages
345
#8
I had that way for a while, but it got to be a hassle when I needed to hook up additional drives for whatever reason (mainly when I did a lot of service). Ever since then I just always defaulted to having the drives easily removable without putzing around with removing the back cover. But yeah, it does add a bit of an eyesore especially with a full-windowed panel.
Yeah I'm a sucker for case aesthetics as you know. :p I only run 2 drives and both are totally hidden in my new case.

It depends on the case, but I doubt it, it usually only allows you one or the other but not both. There is usually a lip on the back side that prevents doing it like that. I have used a case for my clients that will only allow the drives to be inserted so the cables are facing the back instead of the front but I hate that.
In pretty much every case I've used you can do either, usually need 90 degree angle SATA plugs though.
 
Top